Getting my back sorted with Restore and Reform at Fair Oak Farm in Sussex, England

Carla MacKay reviews a rehabilitation holiday with Restore and Reform at Fair Oak Farm in Sussex and finds a gorgeous shepherds hut, excellent therapy, like-minded company and a huge boost for her morale.

This was my second holiday with Restore and Reform (they have several repeat customers) but the first at their delightful venue in Sussex, and a long weekend rather than a week.

The company runs bespoke rehabilitation programmes for clients recovering from illness or surgery or those who want to address long-term pain issues or recover after pregnancy or cancer treatment. I was here because my initial week with Restore and Reform in Portugal, read my personal journey here) R&R had been so successful in accelerating my post-operative progress.

Fair Oak Farm is a boutique eco-conscious retreat venue set on the high rolling Sussex Weald. On arrival, I was allocated one of the delicious shepherd huts which was an absolute treat. Tiny but perfect with a super-comfortable double bed, kitchenette and shower room, dinky wood-burning stove and wooden floor and rugs – all tastefully furnished and heated up to a marvellous fug by a very efficient oil filled radiator. I lit the stove just for a finishing touch rather than heat. I should add that it was freezing January weather outside but tropical, the way I like it, inside.

On the Friday evening, we gathered for a welcome drink in the Hay barn to introduce ourselves – there were a dozen of us – and meet the team who gave us a short presentation with a slideshow of who they are and what they do. Saturday and Sunday were working days, and we each had a detailed individual timetable of our therapy hours, meal times and free time.

A typical day for me started with an hour-long 8.30 am Restore class with Michelle with five others. For this she used hard foam rollers which are excellent for alignment, balance and core strength. This was followed by a slap-up home-cooked breakfast in the main farmhouse. I then had my individual physiotherapy assessment with Michelle, which is a valuable part of the whole experience and sets the agenda for your other therapies.

A light lunch (usually something like Chicken Caesar salad and green juice) cooked by one of the Restore and Reform team was laid on between 12-2 pm, and then it was time for another two or three classes before dinner. These included Reformer Pilates taken by Lucy which were especially good for strengthening my damaged legs. Don’t be put off by Reformer machines if you have never encountered them. They are an excellent way to exercise completely safely and with control. We also had a fabulous soft tissue therapy hour with Abigail, who concentrated on areas of need as identified by Michelle, and a later stretch class with Abigail too.

Dinner at 8.30 pm was catered by a local company, and wine was served to anybody who fancied it – we all did! The weekend was about restoration not deprivation. The food was excellent – a starter one night was a Thai beef salad with a main course of marinated salmon – followed by a magnificent cheeseboard boasting a huge, whole smelly Vacherin.

‘Because of the varied therapy and exercise, four hours a day was easily do-able and the culminative effect of a daily programme was astonishingly beneficial’

Because of the varied therapy and exercise, four hours a day is easily do-able, and the culminative effect of a daily programme is astonishingly beneficial. As we were only there for the weekend, I wasn’t expecting to feel as rejuvenated as I was after a week in Portugal, but I did feel a lot better, even so, and my back pain was greatly eased.

What was great for me personally was proof of how much I had achieved since my Restore and Reform week in Portugal three months earlier, where I had gone following a disastrous spinal operation in which the nerves in both my legs had been almost severed and, having escaped a wheelchair existence by the narrowest margin, I had to learn to walk again.

I positively strode round the venue without sticks, and did poses on the Reformer Pilates machine that I couldn’t have dreamt of doing earlier. So much so, that Restore and Reform co-directors Michelle and Lucy found it hard to believe how much progress I had made (with their initial help and follow up appointments with Michelle). All of which was excellent for my morale.

It was also a delight to meet new people, all with a licence to discuss their operations and exchange views on recuperation. Everyone had a different problem. One or two had had operations, several had backpain and wanted to avoid an operation and one was about to have an ankle operation and wanted to be in prime condition beforehand. Some people just wanted to be as fit as possible for skiing or running a marathon.

In my spare time, I explored the historic nearby village of Mayfield and considered going to see one of the many attractions in the area, but instead plumped for reading the newspapers in my divine hut. I went for walks in the spacious grounds and tried to make friends with the alpacas and commune with the half dozen or so peacocks. All that was missing was a dog.

We were mostly a middle-aged group of professionals interested in fitness and health, and delighted that we had found in one place the means to address our varied issues. All of us bonded over splendid meals and plenty of wine in the toasty farmhouse kitchen, and it was fascinating to meet and talk to the medics who were amongst us and had come to see if it was suitable for their patients. Since when have you been able to have long informative chats with a surgeon who wasn’t charging by the nano-second?

Unlike most weekends, this was a truly productive, interesting and relaxing one in a place you would be happy to call your home!